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How Does Alcohol Affect The Teenage Brain

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How Can I Avoid Drinking

How Does Alcohol Affect the Teen Brain?

If all your friends drink and you don’t want to, it can be hard to say “no, thanks.” No one wants to risk feeling rejected or left out. Different strategies for turning down alcohol work for different people. Some people find it helps to say no without giving an explanation, others think offering their reasons works better .

If saying no to alcohol makes you feel uncomfortable in front of people you know, blame your parents or another adult for your refusal. Saying, “My parents are coming to pick me up soon,” “I already got in major trouble for drinking once, I can’t do it again,” or “my coach would kill me,” can make saying no a bit easier for some.

If you’re going to a party and you know there will be alcohol, plan your strategy in advance. You and a friend can develop a signal for when it’s time to leave, for example. You can also make sure that you have plans to do something besides just hanging out in someone’s basement drinking beer all night. Plan a trip to the movies, the mall, a concert, or a sports event. You might also organize your friends into a volleyball, bowling, or softball team any activity that gets you moving.

Girls or guys who have strong self-esteem are less likely to become problem drinkers than people with low self-esteem.

Changes In Brain Development And Function From Drug Abuse

Most kids grow dramatically during the adolescent and teen years. Their young brains, particularly the prefrontal cortex that is used to make decisions, are growing and developing, until their mid-20s.

Long-term drug use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. Once a young person is addicted, his or her brain changes so that drugs are now the top priority. He or she will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences to his or her life, and for those who care about him.

Alcohol can interfere with developmental processes occurring in the brain. For weeks or months after a teen stops drinking heavily, parts of the brain still struggle to work correctly. Drinking at a young age is also associated with the development of alcohol dependence later in life.

Using Hightech Tools To Assess Alcoholic Brain Damage

Researchers studying the effects of alcohol use on the brain are aided by advanced technology such as magnetic resonance imaging , diffusion tensor imaging , positron emission tomography , and electrophysiological brain mapping. These tools are providing valuable insight into how alcohol affects the brains structure and function.

Longterm heavy drinking may lead to shrinking of the brain and deficiencies in the fibers that carry information between brain cells . MRI and DTI are being used together to assess the brains of patients when they first stop chronic heavy drinking and again after long periods of sobriety, to monitor for possible relapse to drinking .

Memory formation and retrieval are highly influenced by factors such as attention and motivation . Studies using MRI are helping scientists to determine how memory and attention improve with long-time abstinence from alcohol, as well as what changes take place when a patient begins drinking again. The goal of these studies is to determine which alcoholinduced effects on the brain are permanent and which ones can be reversed with abstinence.

Another hightech tool, electroencephalography , records the brains electrical signals . Small electrodes are placed on the scalp to detect this electrical activity, which then is magnified and graphed as brain waves . These brain waves show realtime activity as it happens in the brain.

The P3 component is reduced in alcoholics compared with control subjects.


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What Is Binge Drinking

The term used for drinking large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time is binge drinking. We can measure how much alcohol a person has drunk based on the blood alcohol concentration levels in the bloodstream. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism uses this measure to define binge drinking, which is defined as blood concentration levels of alcohol of at least 0.08 g per 100 g of blood . A female typically reaches this level after having 4+ standard drinks within 2 h, while for males it is generally 5+ standard drinks. In the US, a standard drink is any drink containing 14 g of alcohol, regardless of glass size or alcohol type . Other drinking patterns include light drinking , moderate drinking and heavy drinking .

  • Figure 1 – Examples of one standard drink.
  • The percent of pure alcohol varies by alcohol type.

In the US, by the eighth grade, approximately one in 20 students report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks. By the tenth grade, this increases to approximately one in 10 students , and by the last year of high school, approximately one in six students report binge drinking in the past 2 weeks . By college, two in five report regular binge drinking . Regular binge drinking can lead to poor mental health and participation in other risky behaviors.

Alcohol And The Brain

Alcohol and the teenage brain

Adults issue all kinds of warnings to discourage underage drinking. Here are just a few:

If you drink that beer you will kill your brain cells!

You may as well ram your head into a brick wall, your brain will never be the same again!

You are not allowed to drink because I told you so!

Lots of these warning are based on the belief that the human brain has a finite number of brain cells and once damaged or killed they are gone for life. We know now that our brains can regenerate cells throughout our lives and that the number of brain cells you have is not nearly as important as how you fire and wire the ones that you have.

That doesnt let young brains off the hook though. The latest research tells us that the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain are even worse than we thought.

So what does alcohol do to the teen brain during this window of sensitivity?

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What Happens To Your Brain When You Use Methamphetamine

All drugs change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters, telling us how to act and behave. These neurotransmitters attach to molecules on neurons called receptors.

There are many neurotransmitters, but dopamine is the one that reinforces cravings for pleasurable behaviors, like eating a piece of chocolate cake or playing a video game. With repeated use, stimulants like methamphetamine can disrupt how the brains dopamine system works, reducing a persons ability to feel pleasure from normal, everyday activities. People will often develop tolerance, which means they must take more of the drug to get the desired effect. If a person becomes addicted, they might take the drug just to feel normal.

After the “high” of methamphetamine wears off, many people experience a “crash” and feel tired or sad for days. They also experience a strong craving to take methamphetamine again to try to feel better.

Learn more about how the brain works and what happens when a person uses drugs.

Alcohol Use In Teens And Young Adults

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , alcohol is the most commonly used substance among young people in the US. Although rates of drinking and binge drinking have been going down over recent decades, national surveys show that among youth and young adults, one in five report drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, and one in 10 report binge drinking. The 2019 Youth Risk Behavioral Survey found that more than a quarter of high school students drank alcohol in the 30 days before they took the survey, and one in seven reported binge drinking in that same time period.

Thats an awful lot of youth who could be changing their brains and their lives forever.

Here is what the parents of teens can and should do:

  • Talk to your teens about alcohol and its effects all of them. Make sure they have the facts.
  • Have strict rules about alcohol use, and consequences if those rules are broken. Yes, its normal for teens to experiment, but if you condone going to parties with alcohol, binge drinking, or driving while drinking, it could literally ruin your childs life or end it.
  • Get to know the parents of your teens friends, and work toward having a shared, community responsibility for keeping everyone safe.
  • Set a good example. Drink responsibly, just as those ads encourage.

For more advice on talking to your teen and strategies for preventing alcohol use and abuse, visit the website of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Alcohol Can Impair Brain Development

Drinking alcohol can affect how the brain develops in those under 25. Young people under 15 years are particularly at risk. Teenage brains are still developing, and the areas of the brain that undergo the most dramatic changes during the teenage years are the frontal lobe and hippocampus. These areas are associated with motivation, impulse control and addiction.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, which means it can damage the brain. One of the effects of excessive alcohol use is that it interferes with vitamin B absorption, which prevents the brain from working properly.

Long-term drinking above the recommended levels may lead to a range of disorders, collectively known as alcohol-related brain injury . Symptoms can include learning and memory problems, and difficulties with balance.

Teen Drinking Shot By Shot

Under Construction: Alcohol and the Teenage Brain

Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows the function of the central nervous system. So after one drink, because stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol drop, teens may feel more relaxed or less anxious. Since alcohol blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain, it may also alter perceptions, emotions, movement, and hearing. Still, adolescents are much less sensitive than their adult counterparts to many of the undesired effects of alcohol, which normally serve as cues to moderate intake. So they can drink twice as much alcohol before feeling anything.


More alcohol causes greater changes in the brain, reducing hand-eye coordination and often resulting in blurred vision and slurred speech and increasing the chances of a teen engaging in risky behavior. Driving accidents are common at this stage since the person is mobile, awake, and may think they’re “okay” to drive.


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Alcohol And Brain Damage

Alcohols toxic effect can cause significant brain injury, referred to as alcohol related brain impairment and is more likely to occur if a person drinks heavily on an ongoing basis over a long period.

ARBI can also occur over a shorter time frame, and this is dependent on the amount a person consumes. This way of drinking is often referred to as binge drinking and that is when a person drinks a lot of alcohol in a single session on a semi regular basis.

Brain injury can be caused by alcohol because it:

  • has a toxic effect on the central nervous system
  • results in changes to metabolism, heart functioning and blood supply
  • interferes with the absorption of vitamin B1 , which is an important brain nutrient
  • may be associated with poor nutrition
  • can lead to falls and accidents that injure the brain

Background On Adolescent Substance Use

Substance use during adolescence has been associated with alterations in brain structure, function, and neurocognition. This review will present the current research regarding typical adolescent brain development and the subtle but significant abnormalities in indices of brain functioning associated with alcohol and drug use during this critical developmental period. Studies using neuropsychological assessment and structural and functional imaging will be discussed to help elucidate the relationship between neurocognition with alcohol and marijuana use. Additionally, methodological issues in neuroimaging and neuropsychological assessment research will be reviewed.

While several decades of research with adults have shown that chronic heavy drinking is associated with adverse consequences on the adult brain , this relationship has only recently been explored in the adolescent brain. Understanding the effects of alcohol and drug use on adolescent neurocognition is crucial, being that rates of use increase dramatically between ages 12 and 18. Epidemiological studies have shown that past month alcohol use increases from 17% to 45% between 8th and 12th grade, and illicit drug use prevalence expands from 8% to 22%. Lifetime rates indicate that 73% of youth have used alcohol and 48% have used illicit drugs by their senior year of high school . In the past year, 23% of youth meet diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder by age 20 .

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The Effects Of Brain Damage On Development

Unfortunately, the changes that the brain undergoes after exposure to alcohol in adolescence can be permanent. Teens who drink heavily in adolescence may experience structural changes to the brain that impair the ability to make calculated decisions, regulate emotions, form and recall memories, and absorb and apply information. The implications of these changes are wide ranging and expand well beyond the bounds of academic performance. Teenagers who drink heavily are at higher risk for alcohol and other substance use disorders, as well as increased risk for vehicular crashes and other injuries related to alcohol use.

Why Shouldn’t I Drink

Alcohol effects on teenage brain and how to talk to your ...

Although it’s illegal to buy alcohol in the United States until the age of 21, most teens can get access to it. It’s therefore up to you to make a decision about drinking. In addition to the possibility of becoming addicted, there are some downsides to drinking:

The punishment is severe. Teens who drink put themselves at risk for obvious problems with the law . Teens who drink are also more likely to get into fights and commit crimes than those who don’t.

People who drink regularly also often have problems with school. Drinking can damage a student’s ability to study well and get decent grades, as well as affect sports performance .

You can look really stupid. The impression is that drinking is cool, but the nervous system changes that come from drinking alcohol can make people do stupid or embarrassing things, like throwing up or peeing on themselves. Drinking also gives people bad breath, and no one enjoys a hangover.

Alcohol puts your health at risk. Teens who drink are more likely to be sexually active and to have unsafe, unprotected sex. Resulting pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases can change or even end lives. The risk of injuring yourself, maybe even fatally, is higher when you’re under the influence, too. One half of all drowning deaths among teen guys are related to alcohol use. Use of alcohol greatly increases the chance that a teen will be involved in a car crash, homicide, or suicide.

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Do Olympians Drink Alcohol

According to the Olympic playbook, athletes are forbidden from consuming alcohol in groups and can only drink alcohol when alone and in their rooms. According to this embassy they decided to let the athletes who already finished with their competitions to send back to their home immediately, says Takaya.

Quality Of White Matter

Chronic alcoholic adults show clear abnormalities in brain white matter volume as well as microstructural alterations in white matter tissue organization . Typically, less white matter suggests dissipation of myelin-coated axons . Diffusion tensor imaging characterizes the integrity of water matter by examining the diffusion of water molecules in white matter tissue. Therefore, DTI provides information on the organization of localized white matter fiber tracts. Two commonly used scalar measurements are fractional anisotropy , which reflects white matter coherence by providing an estimate of the directionally dependent movement of water molecules, and mean diffusivity , an index of the overall displacement of water molecules.

In a preliminary analysis, we looked at the effects of both binge drinking alone and with combined marijuana use on white matter integrity . Forty-two participants were identified as controls , binge drinkers , or binge drink+marijuana users . Adolescent participants received DTI with whole brain coverage. Diffusion weighted data were collected on a 3-Tesla GE magnetic resonance scanner . Diffusion-weighted images were acquired in 15 directions, in addition to a normalization image with no diffusion encoding . Four volumes were acquired and averaged for each direction and the b = 0 volume. FA maps from each participant were submitted to Tract-Based Spatial Statistics , which facilitated voxelwise between-group comparisons.

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Teen Drinking May Cause Irreversible Brain Damage

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    The red specks highlight where the integrity of the brain’s white matter is significantly less in the teens who binge drink, compared to those who do not. Courtesy of Susan Tapert/Tim McQueeny, UCSDhide caption

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    The red specks highlight where the integrity of the brain’s white matter is significantly less in the teens who binge drink, compared to those who do not.

    For teenagers, the effects of a drunken night out may linger long after the hangover wears off.

    A recent study led by neuroscientist Susan Tapert of the University of California, San Diego compared the brain scans of teens who drink heavily with the scans of teens who don’t.

    Tapert’s team found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teens who drank. The researchers believe this damage negatively affects attention span in boys, and girls’ ability to comprehend and interpret visual information.

    “First of all, the adolescent brain is still undergoing several maturational processes that render it more vulnerable to some of the effects of substances,” Tapert says.

    In other words, key areas of the brain are still under construction during the adolescent years, and are more sensitive to the toxic effects of drugs and alcohol.

    Damage to the brain of a teenage drinker, top view Courtesy of Susan Tapert/Tim McQueeny, UCSDhide caption

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    Thought, Memory Functions Affected

    And the boys?

    Teenage Tendency To Experiment To Blame

    Damaged Brain Tissue

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